The UN war over calling Syria a ‘civil war’

Colum Lynch reports: Herve Ladsous, the U.N.’s peacekeeping chief, acknowledged on Tuesday that Syria was now effectively in a state of civil war.

The statement may seem self-evident to anyone watching the escalation of fighting between the Syrian government, which is using attack helicopters, tanks, and mortars against civilians and armed opposition fighters, which have themselves stepped up attacks against government targets.

But the declaration triggered a sharp rebuke from the Syrian government and prompted the U.N. leadership to say that Ladsous has no legal standing to judge the nature of the Syrian conflict. Ban Ki-moon’s office issued a statement saying the “UN secretariat will not characterize the conflict in Syria.”

“Talk of civil war in Syria is not consistent with reality,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “What is happening in Syria is a war against terrorist groups plotting against the future of the Syrian people.”

The determination has real implications, according to legal scholars, subjecting Syria to laws of war under Geneva Conventions.

It is up to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, to determine whether a country has crossed the threshold from a violent disturbance into a full fledged civil war, or internal armed conflict.

Under the laws of war, a government has a permit to kill combatants in the course of a conflict, but it is also subject to prosecution for committing war crimes, like bombarding residential neighborhoods.

So far, the Red Cross has not rendered a judgment. [Continue reading…]

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